A Reservist's Tale Of A Tour

Posts Tagged ‘casualties

Sickened, Saddened, Disturbed…

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Today’s events in Panjwaii, Kandahar Province have me a bit down. One savage act has the potential to undo so much progress, damage so many relationships, distract so much attention from anything positive. And every update sounds worse and worse as the whole story comes out. There have been tragic incidents in the past that strain relationships, but this one strikes me as particularly horrific.

I can only hope that swift, firm, publicized  justice finds the individual who committed such heinous murders. He is a stain on our profession, and everything we’re supposed to stand for. This isn’t why we’re here, and it doesn’t help anyone.


Written by Nick

March 11, 2012 at 1:14 pm

A Little Human Interest Piece

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It’s not getting a lot of media attention, but Afghanistan is experiencing an abnormally cold winter, particularly Kabul. The impact has been significant on Afghans, in particular Internally Displaced Persons – essentially refugees who still are within Afghanistan. Many Afghans have fled the south where violence is still intense, particular Helmand and Kandahar provinces, for the relative stability of Kabul, but they live in atrocious conditions in camps in the city. Today a New York Times piece caught my eye – it was a follow on a story they did on a camp in Kabul where a large number of children have been killed by the cold – a tragedy compounding Afghanistan’s already having the highest rate of infant mortality in the world. Anyhow, the link is here, and you’ll see the Times also has links to some organizations involved in helping out.


Written by Nick

March 3, 2012 at 2:36 pm

Focusing In On The End State

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We’re getting toward the home stretch for sure. Combat first aid wound up well – a good, thorough, and frankly relevant and intense course was probably the best training I’ve seen so far here. Interestingly enough, one of the instructors was a young NCO I trained on his PLQ (primary leadership qualification) course a few years ago and had back the following year as an instructor. He’s doing alright for himself after leaving the Primary Reserve to join the Regular Force.

The course is taught over two days, the first day being mainly theory – the basics of paramedicine, essentially. It’s a crash course in anatomy and trauma management, essentially. It takes what you learn in Standard First Aid courses and rearranges the priorities to make dealing with trauma the primary emphasis, with the equipment that we carry. That equipment is pretty good and being constantly improved upon, but at the end of the day, like any tools, its effectiveness depends solely upon the skill of the users. We therefore got introduced to it all, and put into situations that were realistic enough to get us thinking.  With the limited time and huge audience we didn’t get the intense casualty simulation that often comes with the training, but when you’ve got people taking the material seriously, it’s going to give you the desired effect.

The only thing we cannot simulate is your own reactions to seeing first-hand the impacts of attacks. There’s a combat psychology aspect to this that we haven’t covered intensely in this workup but most people at least in the Army have either been formally introduced to in some aspect of training, or have learned about from their own study of our art. The key to dealing with this revolves around an expanded version the Cooper Colour Code – which was developed by a USMC Marine Colonel, Jeff Cooper, who is an expert on firearms training. The key is to keep yourself “out of the black” – a situation where the natural reaction to combat stress renders you unable to effectively perform anything. The great concern is that in the wake of an incident, those people who need to react and start rendering aid will be in Condition Black – heart racing, brain unable to process information properly, fine motor skills effective. We train on drills so that what you have to do is no longer a conscious thought process, but simple reactions.

Training done right will push you into the red, at which point your heart is racing, your breathing is laboured, you start to get tunnel vision on your objective, and your brain is struggling to process the information around you that you need to remain situationally aware. We train to understand this physiological reactions and to manage them. Studying this has led us to change the way we teach people to use their weapons, to teach them breathing techniques that will aid them, and so on. We don’t do that perfectly yet… and that’s a big, big pet peeve of mine, but I’m not doing this to rant about things I want to see changed. I know we’re getting there. But that’s a discussion for another time, and probably for another forum.

Today we’re working on cultural awareness training, which has been somewhat interesting, but at the same time for me it’s kind of boring, because I’ve read extensively on Afghan history and culture, and while I’m getting some insights from our advisors, the rest is kind of slow. I’ve got another day of that tomorrow, which I’m hoping will be better.

Tonight, however, was especially interesting. We got a visit from the Commander of Canadian Forces Expeditionary Command (CEFCOM), who had a lot to tell us about his insights into the mission we’re embarking on. It wasn’t a lot of blowing smoke up people’s arses. It was a realistic assessment of what we’re going to do, and that to me is good, because having a realistic context in which to work means that we’re going to have realistic objectives. Setting up to train Afghanistan’s security forces – or rather – to enable them to train and sustain themselves will make a difference there, and is what we haven’t done an effective job of for the last ten years. It seems like the overarching concept isn’t an unrealistic view.

We will face a lot of challenges. Afghans in the age bracket that the ANSF recruits from have a literacy rate of 14%. That means 86% of them are unable to read or write. These are things we take for granted in a country like Canada, but a country which has been devoid of an effective education system creates that sort of problem. Corruption is endemic, of course, and we will never eliminate it, to suppose we can is folly, so instead, we just have to try to work around it to focus on effectiveness. We have to hope that political will to support the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan stays intact. The “green-on-blue” incident in which 4 French trainers were killed and 15 wounded the other day shook the French resolve. Comd CEFCOM put it best – the insurgency needs to work to break the bonds of trust that make ISAF work – between ISAF armies and their ANSF counterparts, between the Afghan civilization population and their police and army, and if that breaks the link between us, the deployed soldiers and the people at home then it is far easier to push us to give in.

I guess, then, in some way, I’m going to play a direct role in all aspects of that. My job is to help the ANA training system work better, by enabling them to do for themselves, rather than us doing for them. And more importantly, I’m going to tell you the story – the story of one contributor, but part of a broader Canadian story. The fact is, we’re not going to have the kind of media attention that operations in Kandahar ever did. When you really think about it, actually, the fact that Afghanistan isn’t splashed all over front page news right now is an indicator that something is going right, but it’s also creating a risk that the public won’t realize we are there. I want to counter that – I want people to know – to remember – that even though the intense fighting in Kandahar is over, even though hopefully we’re not going to see so many corteges traveling the Highway of Heroes, there are still 1000 Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan working to make sure that that country can stand on its own and that we won’t have to worry about the costs of a failed state. We’ve paid it for 10 years.

I hope it’ll be interesting. It’s getting close to the next chapter – to “go time”.

A Harsh Reminder

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It’s been enough that when people who aren’t military hear where I’m headed in a few months I always get asked “But aren’t we pulling out of Afghanistan?” and I have to provide the recap of what’s going on there.

Yesterday morning I read the initial reports on a few incidents including the one in Kabul. Before I set off for my day’s events I heard 13 Americans died in an attack near Kabul. Over brunch with my wife I heard the update that one of them was actually a Canadian.

Canada’s military is very small and playing Six Degrees of Separation is easy. Chances are if you don’t know someone personally, you know someone who does. Getting to a third degree is almost certain if you don’t.

So we all wait with baited breath to hear the name, to find out if it is someone we know, as though it’s somehow better if we don’t. We run down a checklist of who we know over there and wonder when we heard from them last.

And finally, the name comes out. You feel a brief sense of relief that it wasn’t someone you know personally. Then you realize that doesn’t matter, that the loss is still tragic because some part of the family is feeling it that close and we know how that feels, I do for sure. Been there done that.

And so we honour the fallen, thank them for taking the risks they did, and we resolve to carry on.

RIP Master Corporal Bryon Greff. Not in vain.


Written by Nick

October 30, 2011 at 8:16 am